A powerful indictment of mankind's role in global warming, Human Activity Suite is guitarist Brad Shepik's most expansive and earnest project to date. Global warming is an issue close to Shepik's heart, as explained in a December 2008 interview with Frank A. Matzner.
A well-versed world traveler, Shepik has explored many cultural traditionsboth on his own albums, and as a member of "world music" collectives such as Babkas, Lingua Franca, Pachora and Triduga, as well as Matt Darriau's Paradox Trio, Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio and Yuri Yunakov's Bulgarian Wedding Band. These formative multi-ethnic experiences help inform this album-length suite, which transposes the threat of global warming into a powerful sonic portrait of a world in transition.
Expanding his available instrumental palette for this project, Shepik recruited trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Drew Gress to augment his regular touring trio of keyboardist Gary Versace and drummer Tom Rainey, last featured on Places You Go (Songlines, 2007). Together, they navigate a sonic travelogue that spans the globe, presenting multi-layered portraits of all seven continents, and a handful of key climate change issues (carbon, changing tide patterns, etc.).
Most of the tunes draw heavily from the indigenous folk music of each continent, while others delve more abstractly into geographical nuance, offering aural interpretations of climate and terrain. The ebullient lilt of "Lima (South America)" and the roiling bluesy funk of "Blindspot (North America)" resound with rich local traditions. The finger-picked arpeggios of "Blue Marble (Africa)" unveil a sonorous, kaleidoscopic North African theme, while "Waves (Asia)" rides the vacillating contours of a wah-wah-augmented electric guitar to invoke the turbulence of tumultuous costal weather patterns.
Shepik's quintet employs a variety of colorful instrumental textures to paint portraits of each region. Versace's reedy accordion on "Lima (South America)" and "Blue Marble (Africa)" invokes local customs, while his lush ethereal organ washes on "Stir (Antarctica)" blend with Shepik's tender tambura refrains to suggest the continent's spare landscape. The leader unveils a range of timbres, from the dolorous saz octaves of "Current" and the fleet, clean guitar lines of "Carbonic," to the searing electric fretboard shredding of "Blindspot (North America)." Alessi makes a brilliant foil for Shepik, unleashing splintery salvos on "Blindspot (North America)" and soaring, lyrical cadences on "Not So Far (Australia)." Downtown scene veterans Gress and Rainey's seasoned rapport provides rhythmic continuity for the group in even the most intricate meters.
Many composers have attempted to address socio-political concerns in pure sound; concerns that are often more readily conveyed by text or lyrics. Instrumental music may not change the world, but Shepik's Human Activity Suite succeeds at sketching a vexing yet hopeful portrait of a world at a crossroads, thereby generating awarenessthe first step in any solution.
Lima (South America); Blindspot (North America); Human Activity; Stir (Antarctica); Not So Far (Australia); Current; Carbonic; Blue Marble (Africa); By a Foot (Europe); Waves (Asia).
Brad Shepik: electric and acoustic guitars, tambura, electric saz; Ralph Alessi: trumpet; Gary Versace: piano, organ, accordion; Drew Gress: bass; Tom Rainey: drums.
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